- Number 438 |
- May 4, 2015
More American homes could be powered by the earth’s natural underground heat with a new, nontoxic and potentially recyclable liquid that is expected to use half as much water as other fluids used to tap into otherwise unreachable geothermal hot spots.
The fluid, developed at DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, might be a boon to a new approach to geothermal power called enhanced geothermal systems. These systems pump fluids underground, a step that’s called “reservoir stimulation,” to enable power production where conventional geothermal doesn’t work.
PNNL’s reservoir stimulation fluid features an environmentally friendly polymer that greatly expands the fluid’s volume. This expansion creates tiny cracks in deep underground rocks to improve power production. As a result, the fluid could substantially reduce the water footprint and cost of enhanced geothermal systems. A paper describing the fluid has been published by the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Green Chemistry.
Lenore Rasmussen's dream of developing a synthetic muscle that could be used to make better prosthetic limbs and more responsive robots became airborne at 4:10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 14, when her experiment was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station National Laboratory from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Rasmussen, a synthetic polymer chemist and founder of Ras Labs, has worked closely with researchers and engineers at DOE's Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) to develop the material's ability to adhere to metal. The Synthetic Muscle™ could be used in robotics in deep space travel such as travel to Mars because of its radiation resistance.
"Based on the good results we had on planet Earth, the next step is to see how it behaves in a space environment," said Charles Gentile, a PPPL engineering and scientific staff member who has worked closely with Rasmussen. "From there the next step might be to use it on a mission to Mars."
Just as a delicate balance of ingredients determines the tastiness of a cookie or cake, the specific ratio of metals in an alloy determines desirable qualities of the new metal, such as improved strength or lightness.
A new class of alloys, called high entropy alloys, is unique in that these alloys contain five or more elements mixed evenly in near equal concentrations and have shown exceptional engineering properties, such as high strength at elevated temperatures. Alloys more typically are made up of two or three metals.
A team of researchers at DOE's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UT), has found that this class of alloy retains enhanced mechanical properties even when the mixing is uneven or disordered, which opens up new possibilities for future alloy design.
DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is co-leading an international push to assure the reliability of solar panels—an assurance demanded by customers, manufacturers, lenders, and utilities.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems affected by defective or underperforming panels is very low—just 0.1% per year according to new data of 50,000 systems analyzed by the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). But in the face of pressure to keep lowering prices, it is essential that quality be maintained and assured, said Sarah Kurtz, a Research Fellow at NREL who manages the lab's PV Module Reliability Test and Evaluation Group.
The International PV Quality Assurance Task Force (PVQAT) was formed in 2011 to develop standards to help customers quickly assess a PV product's ability to withstand regional stresses and gain confidence that purchased PV products will be of consistent quality. The effort to forge an international consensus is led by NREL in the United States and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan.